LITERARY “ENFANT TERRIBLE”
When Truman Capote arrived on the literary scene in the 1950s, the publishing industry was unprepared for him. There were eccentric authors, certainly, but few were as young and determined as Capote. He once stood for four days outside the offices of The New Yorker so he could personally deliver a short story to a publisher, refusing to go through several levels of bureaucracy to get attention. He is known for his short stories, especially Breakfast at Tiffany's, and his true-crime genre defining novel, In Cold Blood. He overcame a tormented childhood and irregular parenting to become a successful writer with a wild personality.
Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons on September 30th, 1925 in New Orleans. His mother, Lula Mae, was the town socialite and his father Arthur was a scheming traveling salesman. His parents were rarely present, and he was often shipped off to live with relatives. At one point, he was moved to a small town to live with elderly relatives, where he became fast friends with future novelist Harper Lee. His mother was fond of going on outings late at night and locking Capote in a hotel room. When his parents finally divorced, he moved with his mother to New York, where he took his stepfather's last name. Capote had a very lonely childhood and took to writing in his spare time, spending several hours alone in his room.
As he matured, his writing developed, and by the time he was in his late teens, Capote had received several writing awards. He interned at The New Yorker and refused to go to college. In the late 1940s, Capote began to receive recognition for his short stories. He had stories in continuous rotation in major American magazines and papers. Capote gained many high-profile friends from his scandalous behavior, which involved suggestive self-portraits used for his published book jackets. He published Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1958, and it placed very high on The New York Times' bestseller list.
He managed to estrange the vast majority of his celebrity acquaintances when he published a scathing exposé on the lives of the wealthy called Unspoiled Monsters. The novel contained grotesque caricatures of easily-recognizable people, and thinly-veiled descriptions of embarrassing events in their lives. One woman discussed in the book who had been accused of murder committed suicide shortly after its publication. Unspoiled Monsters created a scandal in upper-class New York society when it was published, and Capote was left with few friends. He was apparently so shocked by and his subsequent status as a social pariah that his alcohol problems worsened considerably.
Capote's life was marked by rampant success and abject sadness. Though his novels sold extremely well, he was always bitter that his childhood friend Harper Lee won a Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird. When he wrote In Cold Blood in 1962, the ensuing involvement with one of the murderers depressed him sufficiently that he became a raging alcoholic. Capote continued writing short stories and plays but was never able to match the success of In Cold Blood. He died of a brain hemorrhage in 1984.